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Joe Earle Posted by on January 6, 2017.

20 Under 20: Local students making a difference in our communities

Meet Reporter Newspapers’ second annual group of 20 Under 20 honorees. We asked public and private schools, service organizations and members of the general public to nominate students who are younger than 20 and who have been active volunteers in their communities. Here are our selections of 20 special young people who are doing much to change their world for the better.

As in the past, we are astounded at how much time and effort these students put into their work for the benefit of others. They volunteer for thousands of hours in our local communities, travel to foreign countries, create nonprofit organizations and mentor other students.

We hope their stories will inspire you.

Caroline McClatchey, 18

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School

Caroline McClatchey.

When she was 14, Caroline was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. She began spending a lot of time at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta for treatment. Now she’s giving back, she says, “to the hospital that saved my life.”
Caroline serves as co-president of girlFriends, an organization of high school girls who raise money for CHOA through fundraising events such as a Battle of the Bands at the Buckhead Theatre. girlFriends also is raising money for Children’s Miracle Network, planning to decorate mailboxes for the holidays, and working on an ice skating fundraiser, said Missy McClatchey, Caroline’s mother. After four years on the leadership board, Caroline will have helped raise over $100,000 for the hospital, Missy McClatchey said.

“She’s a great, outstanding young lady,” said Lynn Leslie, senior program coordinator for CHOA. “It’s really exciting to see these young girls. They’re outstanding. We love them.”

Caroline feels much the same about the hospital. “Serving and volunteering as president of CHOA girlFriends has been so meaningful to me …,” Caroline said. “I have spent a lot of time at CHOA receiving infusions and treatments for my disease and feel blessed that I can help give back in some way.”

Katie Krantz, 17

The Lovett School

Katie Krantz.

Katie focuses her volunteer work on inclusion and equality, says Angela Morris-Long, Lovett School’s Director of Civic Engagement. Katie mentors middle-school students through the organization Girl Talk and helped start a middle-school debate team. She also is working to start a LGBT+ safe space affinity group as an offshoot of Lovett’s educational Spectrum Club, which Katie led for the past two years. Katie organized events and has invited speakers to help inform the Lovett community about LGBT+ issues.

Katie also speaks Chinese. After winning a Chinese speaking competition, she visited schools and government offices in the Nanjing province on a tour hosted by Nanjing University.

“My most memorable moment in volunteering was the first time one of the seventh grade girls I mentor for Girl Talk waved back at me in the hallway with a wide smile,” Katie said. “It may have been a small gesture, but seeing that I made enough of a positive impact for her to light up when she saw me felt like I had been doing something big and important.”

Kourtni Mackenzie Stewart, 15

The Westminster Schools

Kourtni Mackenzie Stewart and family.

Kourtni serves as a mentor/tennis coach to several lower school students at The Westminster Schools. She’s actively involved in the Youth Ministry at Elizabeth Baptist Church and she’s a foreign exchange host student. She also serves as Community Service Intern for her family’s non-profit organization L.E.A.D. (Launch, Expose, Advise, Direct) which partners with Atlanta Public Schools to empower an at-risk generation to lead and transform the city. As an intern, she helps select, plan and execute various community service projects with the organization including an annual baseball clinic at Turner Field for over 300 students from APS.

Megan Anandappa, 17

St. Pius X Catholic High School

Megan Anandappa.

Megan started helping out at a soup kitchen in downtown Atlanta when she was just 5 years old. A dozen years later, on many weekends, you still can find Megan feeding hungry people at that the soup kitchen, Saint Francis Table.

“I wanted to be like my dad, who has now been volunteering there for 26 years,” she said. “The best part is seeing people’s smiles and knowing that the little things I do actually help people.”

At school, Megan is the president of a campus group that promotes human rights issues by helping to lead events in the community and in Washington D.C. “She is easily the most engaged, most present, strongest-charactered teenager I have ever met,” said Father Michael Silloway, chaplain at St. Pius X.

Silloway said Megan stood out from her first days at the school. As he got to know her better, “she would share more about her family’s flight from the civil unrest in Sri Lanka and her deep desire to return there, hopefully as a medical missionary,” he said.

“She has a gift of perceiving peoples’ struggles and of having a heart that is quick to respond,” Silloway said. “She is nonstop in her energy and her care for others.”

Mary Frances Kitchens, 17

North Springs Charter High School

Mary Frances Kitchens.

At age 3, Mary Frances took on her first volunteer job. She served as a “runner” for a church sandwich project by carrying filled sandwich bags so they could be boxed for distribution. By age 8, she was helping serve dinner at a men’s shelter. By age 10, she was playing with her band at fundraisers.

She’s helped raise money for charities working with children with brain tumors, childhood cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and joined service projects ranging from church outreach efforts to mission trips building houses in Mexico. “She is one of those rare individuals who is simply defined by service,” said her aunt, Diane Sandifer. “She has accomplished more in her short 16 years than many will do in an entire lifetime.”

Mary Frances says one of her favorite family traditions is serving dinner to the men at a metro Atlanta shelter. “Since I was a little kid, my family has been going there and one tradition we have is to serve dinner there on the Sunday closest to Christmas,” she said. “During the holidays, people can often become very busy and forget about how fortunate they are compared to other people in our community. I always love going to the shelter because the men there are some of the most friendly people you will ever meet and I love seeing their smiles and appreciation when we visit.”

Gaurav Kunwar, 17

Riverwood International Charter School

Gaurav Kunwar.

Gaurav’s academic passions center on math and science. He’s made both the Honor Roll and Principal’s List and held office in the Math National Honor Society and the Science National Honor Society. He was a Science Olympiad Atlanta Regional Finals Medalist and plans to study engineering in college.

Outside the classroom, he has assisted with cultural programs and fundraising for the Nepalese Association of Georgia and organized books and tutoring at the Sandy Springs Library. Gaurav also helps to teach science concepts to fifth graders at Heards Ferry Elementary School and, during the summer, has served as a camp counselor and tennis instructor for elementary school age children.

On many days, he’s likely to be found on a tennis court. Gaurav ranked as Riverwood’s No. 1 singles player. He was named the most positive male tennis player from north Fulton County and selected as Riverwood’s Athlete of the Month.

He volunteers with the Sandy Springs Tennis Association, which sponsored an event called “The Battle of the Schools” in which elementary school players competed. “Throughout the practices over the year, the coaches always emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and being courteous to others,” Gaurav said. “When I was volunteering at the event, I was really amazed by how nice and gracious the kids were. I was happy to see how they treated each with respect and were really enjoying the sport.”

Priya Yadav, 16

Sally Cobb Weltner, 17

Atlanta Girls’ School

Sally Cobb Weltner and Priya Yadav.

Both Priya and Sally have a passion for helping underprivileged families and children in the city. Priya, moved by the plight of burn victims, interviewed burn specialists, doctors, and scientists to create a new treatment method using placental stem cells.

She then worked with attorneys to file a patent, with which she and friends started REGEN LLC, of which she is now CEO. Priya says she intends to work over the next several years to develop and distribute her treatment to burn victims in countries around the world at an affordable price.

As a member of the Buckhead Chapter of the National Charity League, Sally has completed more than 1,000 hours of service with various philanthropies. For the last four years, that service has earned her the U.S. Presidential Service Award, which requires at least 100 hours of philanthropic service per year. Most of her time is dedicated to the nonprofit Agape Youth and Family Center Atlanta, which empowers and supports underserved families in our community.

Last summer Sally traveled to Thailand and Cambodia for four weeks, where she taught English and took care of elephants in an elephant sanctuary. While in Cambodia she worked with organizations that fight corruption in the government and provide means of alternative therapy.

John Arnold, 18

Holy Spirit Preparatory School

John Arnold.

In the summer of 2015, John created a sandwich ministry to serve lunches to poor children who normally would rely on lunches supplied by the public school system. He brought together his friends and classmates every Thursday night to prepare the lunches, and then Friday mornings he would deliver the lunches to the children enrolled in the summer sandwich program known as Smart Lunch Smart Kid. “I created my summer sandwich ministry so that my school community could work with me to fight hunger on a grander scale,” John says. “I am so grateful I had the opportunity to found and coordinate this sandwich ministry through my school because by the end of the summer my classmates and friends enabled me to produce and distribute almost 3,000 lunches to the children in the Smart Lunch Smart Kid program.”

Sophie Zelony, 18

Pace Academy

Sophie Zelony.

Since middle school, Sophie has participated in Creating Connected Communities (CCC), a leadership-training program for Jewish teens. The organization serves more than 20 homeless shelters throughout Atlanta and hosts Amy’s Holiday’s Party, an annual fundraiser for 800-plus underprivileged children and their families. Sophie has served CCC as PR manager, event chair and now, vice president. She has also been involved in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network since middle school, raising more than $3,000 and lobbying local senators for support. She is also involved with La Amistad, which provides academic and life enrichment programs for Latinos.

For three years, Sophie has acted as Pace’s liaison with La Amistad, organizing volunteers, clothing drives and fundraisers, and tutoring underserved Hispanic students in core subjects. She worked as a summer camp counselor and interned with La Amistad this past summer. “The first day I went to La Amistad, I thought I had just signed up to be a tutor. But over the past three years, I have become so much more than a tutor to these kids, and they have become such a vital part of my life as well.”

Layla Felder, 13

Atlanta International School

Layla Felder.

Layla loves opera.

She saw her first opera at age 3, her mother says, and in the decade since Layla has taken in about 100 performances. Most have been through the Metropolitan Opera’s Met Live in HD series, through which operas are shown in local movie theaters. Attending those shows, Layla noticed she often was the only child in the audience and she realized that in order for opera to survive, it needed to find younger fans. “Because of her passion for opera, she wants to introduce opera to more kids so the art form that means so much to her will continue,” said her mother, Alicia Felder.

In 2012, she started a club for young opera and art fans. It’s called The Kids Opera & Art Posse. Members attend performances of operas together and tour art museums. So far, they have taken part in more than 60 tours led by docents, Alicia Felder said.

“Layla has taken on a challenge that so many adults are trying to solve —keeping art and opera relevant to young people in a time where contemporary music and the digital world are front and center.”

The club claims eight members, has a website, and, for the past four years, members have taken part in a 5K walk called The KAOP Ring Cycle Endurance Walk as a fundraiser for the Met’s HD Live in Schools program. To date, they’ve raised more than $23,000, Alicia Felder said.

Layla recalls the first walk vividly. “Music from ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia’ blared from a portable speaker …,” she said. “I walked from person to person, talking and walking, and that day I felt important, like I really created something. I had done something to enlighten people about my passion and the wonderful world of the arts. It made me smile, it made me hungry to do more of that.”
She has no plans to slow down. “It has been a long road to where get to where I am today, and there is still an even longer road to get what I want to achieve on behalf of opera and the arts, but now I know it is possible,” Layla said.

Mia Whitney, 18

Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Mia Whitney.

Mia believes in giving, both locally and globally. She’s in charge of community engagement at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and helps organize the school’s annual Toys for Tots and canned food drives. She has hiked the Andes in Peru to distribute goods to families and traveled to Zambia to help children in an orphanage.

And she helps others find ways to volunteer their time. At Mount Vernon, Mia designed a system through which more than 300 students could choose where they wanted to volunteer during a school service day. Now she’s working with Pebble Tossers, an organization dedicated to promoting community service, to help plan monthly volunteer events for Mount Vernon’s students.

As vice president of the school’s National Honor Society chapter, she’s coordinated and taken part in several volunteer events with PawsATL, a no-kill animal shelter.

“They are incredible experiences because we get to witness just how much pleasure the dogs get from having visitors.” She said. “Although cleaning the cages and surrounding area is often challenging, playing with the animals afterwards makes the time so enjoyable. However, the best part is that I get to serve alongside my classmates.”

Samantha Dyer, 18

Hanna Meyers, 17

Katie Pleiss, 18

The Galloway School

Samantha Dyer, Hanna Meyers and Katie Pleiss

Samantha, Hanna and Katie are the founders and leaders of the school’s chapter of Girl Talk, a student-to-student mentoring program where high school girls mentor middle school girls. Samantha said a moment at this past year’s holiday party made her realize the importance of the organization: “We had a lip sync battle, and it was amazing to see the girls step out of their comfort zones and be truly comfortable and carefree. They soon begin to realize that Girl Talk is a safe space of trust, friendship, and unconditional support, and watching this happen makes all of the dedication and commitment worth it.” Hanna says: “I have the privilege of volunteering my time to inspire more middle school girls the same way the organization inspired me in sixth grade, and I am beyond grateful to have Girl Talk in my life.” Katie, who also founded the nonprofit Lead to Learn, where high school girls tutor middle school girls, says: “Since, starting our chapter, I have seen girls learn how to become their best selves, and I hope to continue to impact women around me through encouragement and support.”

Taylor Diamond, 16

North Atlanta High School

Taylor Diamond.

As a student at Sutton Middle School, Taylor Diamond was cast for a part in the school’s fall musical. That helped ignite in him a passion for theater. He continued acting and for two years as a high school student has helped direct Sutton shows through a program in which students from North Atlanta’s International Baccalaureate program support performing arts programs at the middle school. Next year, he expects to co-direct the fall show.

In October, Taylor was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout after completing a project to improve the theater space at Sutton. “It was an awesome experience giving back to the program through scouts, by installing two display cases, labeling the theater, and organizing the space,” he said. “I hope this addition continues to benefit the theater, along with the students involved.”

Kelsey Fleming, 17

Marist School

Kelsey Fleming.

Kelsey is the founder of Bumble’s Bibs (bumblesbibs.com), which she started in honor of her grandmother, Bumble, who passed away from a motor neuron disease in 2013. The idea was born during a 2014 mission trip to Mustard Seed Communities in Jamaica, where Kelsey and her mom were feeding meals to severely handicapped children and adults. Kelsey thought bibs would help keep the residents clean, dry and therefore, more comfortable. In turn, caregivers would spend less time cleaning the residents and have more interactive and therapeutic time with the residents. “We remembered the large, decorative bibs that Bumble made for her grandchildren from kitchen towels and cloth baby diapers. When we returned from the mission trip, we started sewing large bibs to send to the Mustard Seed Communities.” She also recruited volunteers to help sew and deliver the bibs. “To date, with a wonderful team of volunteers, we have sent approximately 800 bibs to the Mustard Seed residential care facilities.” Bumble’s Bibs has also inspired the creation of a new “bib ministry,” where young women living in a home for unwed mothers and mildly disabled adults will be taught how to sew bibs for their fellow disabled Mustard Seed residents.

Reed Stewart, 18

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School

Reed Stewart.

The daughter of Jan and Lever Stewart, Reed has volunteered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Horizons Atlanta, Camp Kudzu, Rustic Pathways, Jubilee Kids Inc., Childspring International and Forging Futures. Reed says: “One of my most memorable moments while volunteering for the diabetes community is seeing the impact these organizations have on kids from all over Georgia. I love watching a camper give insulin or count carbs for the first time on their own, or to see a HIES student smile because so many people in their community came out to support them at the JDRF Walk. Whether it is watching a child in Haiti create a piece of art for the first time or a Horizons student swim on their own after a summer of hard work, it’s the small impact you have made on even just one person that is the best part about volunteering.”

Rosalie “Rose” Karlin, 18

The Weber School

Rosalie “Rose” Karlin.

A senior at The Weber School, Rose has volunteered with a dozen local non-profits including the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Anti-Defamation League, Atlanta Community Food Bank, Genesis Homeless Shelter and with the AIDS Walk and Hunger Walk. For the past three years Rose has been the top fundraiser in the state of Georgia, raising $25,000 for Pancreatic Cancer Action this year with her Team Lala, named after her late grandmother. Rose says: “My grandmother is the person who taught me what it means to be truly selfless and to give to those you may not even know. She taught me to keep a smile on my face even in the toughest situations and that life is full of beauty. She was the most giving person I have ever met and as a result I won’t stop fighting until there is a cure for this horrible disease.”

Chris Parsons, 17

North Atlanta High School

Chris Parsons.

Chris’ community service has focused on helping the homeless, including overnight volunteering at the Central Night Shelter in downtown Atlanta and assisting the cooks and staff to serve meals at the St Francis Table soup kitchen. He also volunteered at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Buckhead Christian Ministries, electronics recycling with St. James United Methodist Church and the Ronald McDonald House. He has also worked with the Museum of Design Atlanta, helping teach kids (including those with special needs) computer gaming and programming. Chris says one of his most memorable moments was getting to know the men at the Central Nigh Shelter. “I watched a football game and talked sports with them and then helping to make sack lunches for those going out the next day,” he says.